In 1974, amidst The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, another Godfather movie and two comedy classics from Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles and YoungFrankenstein), a little low-budget family film starring a scruffy dog snuck into the cinemas.
Arriving with little fanfare, Benji hung on to become one of the biggest successes of the year and an all-time family favourite.
Loveable terrier Benji (played by canine thespian Higgins) lives alone in an abandoned house until he is adopted by a young brother and sister. In their care, Benji learns about love, acceptance and other emotions shared by humans and animals alike.
Later, when his pals are kidnapped, Benji’s canine cunning is put to the ultimate test.
Shot mostly from a dog’s eye view, Benji was Higgins’ movie throughout. The dog obliged with one of the finest performances ever from an animal actor.
The story was simple and earnest, but never condescending or childish, proving that even in a world of infernos, Mafioso’s and monsters, there was still room for a plucky little pooch with a heart of gold.
This is not to say that Benji is not without tense moments.
Benji’s inability to communicate directly with human beings gives the film moments of real fear after the children of his adoptive family have been kidnapped and only Benji knows where they are being held prisoner.
Climaxing in frustrating scenes where Benji’s urgent calls to action are ignored as the random antics of a dog.
That, coupled with a series of emotional flashbacks of the death of Benji’s former owner as seen from the dog’s own perspective made for a cinema first: an animal with unprecedented levels of personification. Benji had depth, feelings and a believable back-story.